The Bastard Legion by Gavin Smith
Publication date: 5 October 2017
Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stealth ships
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This review is spoiler-free.
The Bastard Legion was published in eBook format in January 2017 under the name The Hangman’s Daughter.
This is the first book by Gavin Smith that I’ve read, and I’m so happy to say that The Bastard Legion lived up to my hopes and expectations. It has so many things that I absolutely love: a dark and gritty world, cool and complex technology, morally grey characters, and a butt-kicking leading lady. This is a tough one to review because I feel like you should really dive in and discover for yourself, but I’ll do my best.
A thrilling new down-and-dirty military SF series set in a world of mercenary actions and covert operations… The ultimate Suicide Squad for lovers of Aliens.
Four hundred years in the future, the most dangerous criminals are kept in suspended animation aboard prison ships and “rehabilitated” in a shared virtual reality environment. But Miska Corbin, a thief and hacker with a background in black ops, has stolen one of these ships, the Hangman’s Daughter, and made it her own. Controlled by explosive collars and trained in virtual reality by the electronic ghost of a dead marine sergeant, the thieves, gangsters, murderers, and worse are transformed into Miska’s own private indentured army: the Bastard Legion. Are the mercenaries just for fun and profit, or does Miska have a hidden purpose connected to her covert past?
World Building and Plot
When the books opens, you’re very much thrown directly into the action and need some time to sort out what is going on. To be honest, when this is done well it is one of my favourite approaches to sci-fi. Concepts that seem confusing at first are clarified as the world is slowly revealed to the reader. Smith’s exquisite world-building makes this one of the most fascinating sci-fi worlds I’ve read in a long time. There are so many layers to the world and plot of The Bastard Legion, and it is an absolute delight to watch everything unfold.
Pretty much the entirety of The Bastard Legion takes place off-planet. We spend a great deal of time inside ships, asteroids, and virtual reality. I particularly loved how pervasive the virtual reality was. In order to rehabilitate the prisoners, they’re kept in suspended animation but kept mentally active in virtual reality. When Miska takes over, she uses the VR to train up the prisoners as soldiers. VR is everywhere in this book, but remains unique. They train in VR, they fight in VR, they communicate in VR, and they hack in VR. Characters dip in and out of the virtual world, gaining new perspectives and uncovering secrets about their current location and who they interact with.
So the character I’m going to focus on here is Miska. Not only is she the person we see the most of, but she’s also just so incredibly cool. I personally love a good morally grey character. Miska is not a villain, despite what some of the prisoners and her employers might say. She is also not really a hero — she commits some horrible crimes. She lies somewhere in the murky, greyish realm of ‘antihero’, which honestly makes her so much more believable and cool in her role. She’s an ex-marine who is obviously incredibly capable, but has a whole bucket of issues.
In the beginning, she aims to present herself to her new, unwilling mercenary force as a psychopath, and she doesn’t really need to act much. I personally don’t fully buy that Miska is a psychopath – she’s someone who knows what needs to get done and will do anything to fulfill her personal mission – but she has moments of humanity and emotion. She does, however, have no issue setting off the explosive collars around her ‘soldiers’ necks in order to establish dominance and discipline. Like I said, she’s pretty morally grey.
She’s a fascinating character because you never really know what she’ll do next, especially as her motivations are revealed. I loved the slow reveal of her back story, which explains so much of why she does what she does. Her interactions with various prisoners shows the difference between the Miska she presents to others and who she truly is.
The Bastard Legion is a book that’s best discovered by the reader. It’s filled with incredibly cool and unique twists on familiar concepts and morally grey characters. While I wouldn’t recommend it to sci-fi newcomers – simply because it is a little more on the complex side – military sci-fi enthusiasts must pick this one up. If you’re looking for an action-packed thrill ride that will sweep you far away from the ordinary, The Bastard Legion is the book for you. It’s easily one of the best sci-fi books I’ve picked up this year.
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